Theatre powers connection: a new brand and website for National Theatre Wales
Tabitha Milne and Rhian Hughes share the development of new brand positioning and website for National Theatre Wales (NTW). They open up the process of change as NTW re-examined its vision, values and direction under the artistic leadership of Lorne Campbell.
Theatre powers connection. We're here for Wales' creators, listeners, watchers, workers, sharers, dreamers- everyone.
NTW was started from scratch in 2009 with a vision to build on the old community-based storytelling traditions of Wales in new and radical ways - telling stories of contemporary Wales while keeping community at its heart.
The Company has been on quite a journey over the last 12 years. It’s fair to say it now operates in a very different Wales to the one that existed when it was originally formed. The last few years have been spent weathering a global pandemic: its impact on the world and our communities, the existential threat it posed to much of our sector, and the shift it created in how organisations are run in relation to the needs of their staff and audiences.
It offered NTW a chance to really ask itself some challenging questions, reflect on the journey and choices made, and re-examine its vision, values and direction under new artistic leadership (Lorne Campbell took the helm as Artistic Director in March 2020).
The visioning process
During the pandemic, Tabby kicked off a visioning process to look at what NTW stands for today, and where it wants to go next. The original vision - creating theatre as a way of exploring the complexities and questions of national identity and place - shifted in response to the huge inequalities exposed by the pandemic, Black Lives Matter and anti-ableist movements. This reframed the agenda towards theatre as a tool to connect people and spark change.
The process consisted of a series of creative sessions with staff and board exploring the NTWstory at that point - reflecting on the past, the present and mapping out collective hopes for the future. With Covid upending everything around us, it offered the chance to think about how things could be done differently.
We approached these sessions with one key aim in mind: defining a shared mindset towards what NTW stands for in relation to the world it’s part of - a set of cultural values that run through everything it does like DNA, informing its purpose, culture and ambitions. It was clear that everyone was ready for something to shift and to set a shared vision for the future.
This process laid down the values at the heart of the brand as it developed over the coming months, as well as forming the building blocks of the company’s new strategic plan.
The Audiences team were passionate advocates of a holistic approach of weaving values-centered thinking into the fabric of organisational strategy and company culture. We knew it would only strengthen the branding process as it unfolded.
More than a logo
One of the key aims of the rebrand is to position NTW as a national cultural brand extending its reach and profile beyond the arts and theatre sector, and those-in-the-know, to connect with people all across Wales.
We wanted to reframe the perception of the Company with a warm, accessible, values-based brand that shows theatre as something that exists all around us in the form of human stories and experiences. Not something that takes place in elite spaces made for, and by, a privileged few.
Rebranding is so much more than just a new logo. It’s about everything the Company does, about who it is and how it wants people to feel. To help us articulate an ownable brand story, narrative and voice we commissioned Jo Lilford of Run Jump Fly - a brand and communications strategist, writer and facilitator, based in Wales.
Jo was able to capture the essence of what makes NTW truly distinctive, then help us apply it. Jo’s approach was frank, warm and our working partnership really helped us get to the good stuff.
To spark positive change and open minds
Sharing stories, making connections and starting conversations that enrich and inspire our collective national understanding
NTW’s new brand proposition puts the Company in a bold space to stand out amongst its peers. As does a new brand voice that’s curious, confident, warm, open, conversational and expressive. One that helps to make the most of every touch point, every interaction with audiences, and one that helps to reach parts of the community that may have eluded NTW before - in both English and Welsh.
Vibrant words and visuals
We wanted the Company’s visual brand to further build this sense of familiarity and connection. Showing the impact of how stories can connect us, help us understand each other, and spark change. Encapsulating this in a compelling, playful and warm way.
NTW brings people together and collaborates in everything it does, often platforming independent theatre makers and smaller companies, or working as a collective or co-producing partner. From a brand perspective, this has sometimes presented NTW with challenges in strengthening its own identity. So, a key requirement was for a visual identity that works alongside others, has presence and a unique sense of character. Anything too rigid, or that doesn’t play well with others, wasn’t going to work.
We commissioned Porthcawl-based Alex Jenkins of Designed for Life studio to work with us on this. What he’s created is bold, modern - yet with a retro feel - and full of character. It has huge potential.
“In contrast to the previous branding I wanted to create an icon that was deliberately bold, confident and chunky whilst being very flexible and fun to use. It was key to capture a unique sense of character. I worked with a hand drawn lettering artist and typographer to create a unique set of letters for NTW that could be used in two different formats, one for NTW and the other for NTW TEAM."
"I wanted to create an icon that would animate really well, could be used large-scale but more importantly could be cropped to create a series of very flexible graphic shapes and holders for NTW imagery. The branding and colour palette was designed to be bright, compelling, engaging, vibrant and warm with a liberal sprinkling of fun for good measure.”
National Theatre Wales @NTWtweets To spark positive change and open minds. Tweeters: Rhian(R), Tabby (T) & Nicola (N)
A virtual home
We always knew that part of the rebrand would involve redeveloping the Company’s website. It had become a Frankensite of different parts and pages added over the years, that struggled to really communicate all the Company was up to and scored pretty poorly on accessibility. It had also fallen into the trap of using a site structure and terminology that was based on internal organisational structures, rather than people-centred, user-friendly design.
We had already taken the significant step of migrating to a new CRM system, Spektrix, to ensure audience development could sit as an organisational approach at the heart of NTW’s structures and processes. A new site would be an opportunity to embed this further.
We engaged Supercool as our digital partners. With a proven record of working with arts and cultural organisations, they were able to help us centre audiences throughout the process.
Being a theatre ‘without walls’ gives NTW a scope and flexibility that’s liberating and empowering, but it also presents challenges. The possibilities of what it can be - and for whom - can make it a complex task to accommodate the different ways in which people engage with it.
The lack of a physical space where audiences, communities and theatre makers alike can get a feel for the Company outside the experience of productions or projects, can create challenges in deepening connection and relationships. This is why NTW’s website and online channels are fundamental tools for the Company and its audiences.
The new website acts as a space for people to connect with a whole range of content that articulates the essence of National Theatre Wales. A virtual home for audiences to engage with the Company, everything it does and what it’s thinking about. Accessibility and performance are much improved and it offers a far superior platform to communicate the new brand. It’s fully bilingual too.
“Having gone through such a thorough branding process, and then developing a really fun and engaging visual identity, we had time and space to really focus on the end user in this project. We weren't distracted by who or what NTW is, this had already been established. So we could focus on bringing that personality to life and putting users at the heart of the website process. The end result is a deceptively simple website that covers the vast array of work NTW does in Wales. It's accessible, engaging, draws you in and doesn't put you off with loads of internal jargon. My favourite part of the website is the way language and colour brings NTW to life in the call to actions across the site”
Kate Mroczkowski, Supercool
It’s been a lot of work to get this far, and we couldn’t have done it without our dream team of Jo, Alex, the guys at Supercool, as well as everyone at NTW. We hope the new brand and website will be a real gear changer for the Company, helping it move forward with a renewed sense of confidence and purpose.
Tabitha Milne Rhian Hughes